Die matigende rol van die waardes onderliggend aan die grondwet in die Suid-Afrikaanse kontraktereg
Author: S Cornelius
Affiliations: Hoogleraar in en hoof van die Departement van Privaatreg, Fakulteit Regsgeleerdheid, Universiteit van Pretoria
Source: Tydskrif vir die Suid-Afrikaanse Reg, Issue 4, 2022, p. 660-671
With the adoption of the interim constitution in 1993, much was made of the transformative function which the new constitution, and more particularly, the bill of rights, would fulfil. There were calls to reform the law of contract, whether by means of codification, piecemeal legislation or judicial reform. This contribution focuses on judicial reform of the law of contract and the apparent lack of change since the advent of the new constitutional dispensation.
The search for a means to mitigate the strict application of the law of contract is not new. The Romans found that strict application of the law of contract could sometimes lead to unfair results. Eventually, Roman law developed a remedy, known as the exceptio doli, to mitigate the strict application of the law of contract. The courts in South Africa, from the outset, had to deal with instances where strict application of the law of contract would apparently lead to harsh results. To this end, the courts also turned to the Roman exceptio doli, but eventually, the appellate division ruled in Bank of Lisbon and South Africa Ltd v De Ornelas (1988 3 SA 580 (A)) that the exceptio doli is not part of the South African law of contract. Since then, and particularly since the advent of the new constitutional dispensation, parties have sought to rely on the values underlying the constitution, good faith, reasonableness and equity, in an attempt to seek redress from what they viewed as the harsh effects of the law of contract.
Some trends began to develop: firstly, in some instances, judges displayed a shocking lack of knowledge of the law of contract; secondly, parties or the courts sometimes unnecessarily invoked the constitution when the common law of contract would have produced the same result; thirdly, a clear pattern of conservative majority and liberal minority opinions emerged in judgments of the courts; and lastly, the courts have tended to follow an all-or-nothing approach to matters dealing with contracts. However, in a minority opinion in Beadica 231 CC v Trustees, Oregon Trust (2020 5 SA 247 (CC)), Froneman J proposed a more nuanced approach in terms of which contractual matters can be resolved by proportionate adjustment of the contract. This kind of approach has been followed in Germany and it is proposed that the German concept of ergänzende Vertragsauslegung can guide the courts in South Africa to give greater effect to the values underlying the constitution, good faith, reasonableness and equity.